Evolving Ethics

What are ethics?  According to good ole Merriam-Webster, they are “a set of moral principles or a theory or system of moral values.” 

Ethics, principles, values…all words that generally, throughout history, implied something intrinsic, moral, perhaps even permanent.

Of course, we now live in a culture where such notions are something at which many scoff.  Everything changes, particularly ethics and morality.  

So it came as no surprise in a recent meeting I attended when an “ethicist” with a major hospital association in Virginia voiced his opinion about how health care ethics “have evolved,” attempting to lend credibility to the idea that medical doctors should be allowed to help their patients commit suicide under certain circumstances.  Generally, that would be when someone has a “terminal” illness with fewer than six months to live.  Simply providing “relief from suffering” (i.e. helping them kill themselves) must be moral, according to this ethicist.  The “ethical” argument in favor of this included that, according to some polling, it’s supported by a majority of Americans.  (Another member of the group chimed in with, “like with abortion,” the morality has changed, as if one couldn’t possibly have a moral objection to killing an unborn baby.)

Now, never mind the reality that doctors are notoriously terrible at predicting the lifespan of the terminally ill, and that new treatments for many once incurable diseases are helping extend lifespans each and every day. 

No, the problem with “evolving ethics” is that today’s physician-assisted suicide (PAS) for the terminally ill is tomorrow’s PAS for the chronically ill.  And then those who have a genetic disposition toward a terminal illness.  And then those who simply want “relief from suffering,” regardless of the cause of the suffering.  And what about those who aren’t really sick but who believe themselves to be sick?  I mean, if you can be a biological female but headlines can scream “Man gives birth” because that woman believes themsel to be male, why can’t a healthy person claim a terminal illness?  

And of those in the medical profession, including pharmacists, who have conscientious objections to participating in one’s suicide?  Well, the ethicists at the table assured everyone that “no one would ever force someone to participate” in this.

Ummm…but ethics evolve, no?  Today’s “no one would ever” is tomorrow’s “you’re denying access” to this “treatment” and must be required to do so (see abortion).

If ethics “evolve,” particularly medical ethics, where does that evolution end?  Might makes right is a frightening thought in the world of government controlled health care and PAS.  The slippery slope in this evolution takes us to some very dark places – places we should have learned from history we do not ever want to return.